DCU to review research on abuse of women in Defence Forces following complaints

Public access to former Army captain Tom Clonan’s research temporarily suspended

The DCU registrar has initiated a review of groundbreaking PhD research by a former Army captain in light of complaints. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

The DCU registrar has initiated a review of groundbreaking PhD research by a former Army captain in light of complaints. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times


A groundbreaking PhD detailing widespread abuse and sexual assault of women in the Defence Forces has been placed under restricted access pending an internal review.

The doctorate completed more than 20 years ago by then serving Army captain Tom Clonan detailed bullying, sexual harassment and assault, including rape, against female members across the organisation.

At first the Defence Forces attempted to discredit the research before eventually accepting its findings and instituting a series of initiatives to prevent such behaviour within the organisation.

Until recently, Dr Clonan’s work, Women in Combat: The Status and Roles Assigned Female Personnel in the Permanent Defence Forces, had been available on the website and in the library of Dublin City University (DCU) where he completed his doctorate.

The research included anonymised interviews with 60 female soldiers, sailors and aircrew. Fifty-nine of these reported suffered abuse or discrimination of some kind, including 12 who said they had been sexually assaulted or raped.

It is understood two of the women interviewed by Dr Clonan have now come forward to complain they are identifiable in the research. The complaints relate to an appendix section which contained some biographical details of the interviewees.

The DCU registrar has initiated a review of the work in light of these complaints. While this is ongoing, the PhD is not available online or to the public in the library.


However, the university continues to stand by the findings of Dr Clonan’s work. It is understood one option under consideration is republishing the research without the biographical appendix section.

It is not clear what promoted the complainants to come forward now, 21 years after publication. Dr Clonan’s findings have been back in the spotlight recently as a result of RTÉ’s Women of Honour documentary which detailed similar allegations of abuse, harassment and discrimination against female Defence Forces members.

Unlike in 2000, the Defence Forces has immediately accepted the findings of the documentary, with newly appointed Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Seán Clancy warning that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

A review of the internal handling of such allegations has been established and a “confidential contact person” has been appointed by the Department of Defence to advise victims on how to make a complaint.

Lieut Gen Clancy has also directed a series of “immediate action” responses, including the deployment of a “response team” within the Defence Forces to address such behaviour.

Dr Clonan was also the subject of Misneach, a separate TG4 documentary broadcast earlier this month, detailing his research and journey as a whistleblower.

A DCU spokesman said Dr Clonan’s research has received significant media attention “in light of recent allegations made in RTÉ’s Women of Honour radio documentary”.

‘Current discussions’

He said the research “is an important body of work, which provides historical context for the current discussions, and for which the author was formally thanked by the Defence Forces in November 2019”.

“DCU continues to stand over the veracity of the conclusions of this work. Understandably, the content is highly sensitive for some individual past and current members of the Defence Forces. Therefore, in consultation with Thomas Clonan, DCU has temporarily suspended access to the PhD thesis.”

Dr Clonan, who now lectures at the Technological University Dublin School of Media, reconciled with the Defence Forces in 2019, following a meeting with then Chief of Staff Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett who thanked him for his research and acknowledged its impact.

Dr Clonan declined to comment on the review process when contacted on Sunday.